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Showing posts from 2011

Group Guitar Class - Beginner

Throughout the year we offer beginner level guitar classes at the Santa Clara Adult Education Center and through the De Anza/Foothill College Short Course Program.  Both classes are taught using the book I've Always Wanted to PLAY GUITAR written by instructor Rich Hawthorne.

Both classes are great for students that have no prior experience on guitar.  Here are just some of the topics covered in class:

Proper right and left hand technique.Playing a simple "Blues Riff."Basic chords.The fundamentals of rhythm and note reading.Strumming patterns and using them to accompany a couple of simple songs.
And that's just the beginner class!  Once you complete this class, you will be eligible to continue with more advance classes at The Guitarist.

Buying Your First Guitar

If you are looking to buy a guitar and you have visited your local music store, talked to salespeople, and have read multiple online reviews, then this has probably left you more confused on what guitar to purchase.  As a teacher it is frustrating to see my students play on a cheap, poor quality instrument.  I understand the thinking.  It goes like this, “I just want to try this guitar playing thing out and I want to start with an inexpensive guitar.”  Here’s the problem.  You can’t buy a guitar based only on price.  At first, I believe, it should be based on size, playability, and musical interest.  Here are a few thoughts on each of these:

Size:  I can’t recommend a guitar until I see you.  A guitar that is too big will be awkward to hold.  Fortunately, guitars come in a variety of sizes and shapes.  Make sure you get the right sized guitar!

Playablility:  This is more important to me than sound.  You want a guitar that will be easy to learn on.  Believe it or not, the problem can act…

Practice Tip: Listening

This blog could be a note to myself.I want to listen better to music!I often see students playing guitar using hand/eye coordination.The problem with this is that they can become too preoccupied with the mechanics of playing and less focused on the actual sound of the music they are playing.The end result is usually music that contains the right notes, in the right order, but often rhythmically incorrect and/or melodies that are not played legato (in a smooth, flowing manner without breaks between notes).
What we all need to do is play with more ear/hand coordination.That is, playing our instruments in a way that mimics what we hear around us, and within us.Let me tell you about something funny that I see all the time.When I notice that my students are looking at their fret hand, I’ll say, “Play it again, but this time close your eyes.”You know what usually happens next?They tip their ear towards the guitar.All of sudden when you can’t depend on the sense of sight, the sense of hearing…

Lesson Thirteen - 4/4 time and 3/4 Time Fingerstyle Patterns

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Memorize the 4/4 and 3/4 time fingerstyle patterns given in this lesson.  Please remember:
Your thumb will play the root of each chord.  Up to this point in the book, the root is the lowest note of the chord.Each pattern is made up of eighth notes.  That is, you will play two notes, evenly spaced, for every tap of your foot (or click on your metronome).The real work is going from chord to chord.  Try pairing up a few of your favorite chords.Below are two video demonstrations.  In the first video, I am using the four/four pattern on an Em chord.  In the second video, I am using the three/four pattern on an Em chord.  


Practice tip: Strumming

Here are a few things to try while working on your strumming technique. Hold the pick between the thumb and index finger with the tip of the pick coming out of the side of your thumb.Listen to the tone of your strum.Is it loud or brash?Maybe you’re gripping the pick too tight.Loosen your grip a little and try skimming the pick a little easier over the strings.Practice strumming in all dynamic ranges from barely audible to very loud.It’s very difficult to play softly if you are gripping the pick too hard.Listen to the balance of your strum.Do you hear mostly bass notes?Then your pick is not making it all the way through your chord or you are missing the higher strings on the up strum.Are you missing notes or hearing a lot of buzzing.That could also be a fret hand problem.Play each note of your chord and make sure it sounds. Here is the biggest tip of all – LISTEN.So often we reduce our music down to mere mechanics.We all need to be better at listening.Remember, we are in control of the…

Practice Tip: Repetition

One of the ingredients in getting really good at anything is repetition.When a student says to me, “Why am I not getting this?”I usually find out that they just haven’t tried it enough, or they are trying it too fast  (see Practice Tip: Go Slow).
Sometimes students think of repetition as a boring, tedious process and that it isn’t fun.I won’t say that repetition isn’t work, but I will say you can learn to enjoy the work!The key is to not lose sight of your goal.The goal is to play the song, for your own enjoyment, or better yet, to share with others.
Pick something today that you will commit to practicing until you get it.Set a goal for how many times you will try it on a daily basis.As the days go by, notice how you’re playing it a little smoother and a little faster.Celebrate those little victories!
As you sow the seeds of repetition, you will see the fruit of your labor show up not only in what you committed to practiced, but in other songs as well.  Now, stop reading and go practice!…

Practice Tip: Go Slow

When one of my students is having difficulty playing a phrase or switching between a pair of chords, I often find out that they are practicing it too fast (or, not practicing it enough – more on this later).
Let me ask a question.  If you try something ten times in a row, would you like to get it right more times, or get it wrong more times?  Of course, you would rather be more right than wrong.  If you practice a passage faster than you are able to perform it, most likely you are getting it wrong 9 out of 10 times.  The one time you get it right, you probably got lucky!
If you practice something slowly and repetitiously, you’re setting yourself up for success.  By slow, I mean at a speed that you can accurately perform your musical exercise (phrase, chord switch, scales, etc). 
A metronome will help you play at a slow and even tempo.  For example, say you are having difficulty switching between a G and D chord.  Set your metronome to 50 and switch chords every 4 beats (or 8 beats, if y…

Lesson Twelve: Aura Lee

If you think this song sounds like Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender,"  you're right.  Here's what you should keep in mind when practicing this song:


This song plays best in the open position.  That is the first three frets, including the open strings.Be sure to play the melody legato "smooth and connected."Be sure to learn the new chords - E and G7.A basic 4/4 strum is all that is need to accompany the melody.

Practice Tip: Think Small

That's right, you don't have to practice everything.  Pick something that you want to get good at.  It doesn't need to be an entire song.  It could be as simple as learning to hold a chord and getting all the notes to ring without buzzing (a D chord for those of you just starting.  Bar Chords for all the advance players).

When you keep it small, you will neglect practicing other things.  However, as a result you will master a specific thing rather than just being familiar with everything, but not able to perform it.  When you master that one thing you have had a success!  Little things add up over time.

Lesson Six - He's Got the Whole World in His Hands

You need to learn the D7 chord to play through this song.This song is in 4/4 time.Keep it simple at first.  Strum once in each measure and count to four (whole note).  If a measure doesn't have a chord in it, strum the chord you're holding again.Now, strum down on all four beats (quarter notes).  Don't stop your hand from strumming.  Finally, try one of the 4/4 patterns given at the beginning of this lesson.

Lesson Eleven - Amazing Grace

I hope you enjoy playing this great melody.  Here are a few practice tips:


Amazing Grace has an incomplete measure.  Notice the first measure has only a quarter note.  This is called a pick-up note and should be played on beat three.Watch out for notes that are "tied" together.  You can read about ties in Lesson Five.All the notes for Amazing Grace can be found in the fifth position.Strive to connect the notes and play smoothly - legato.

Study in A Minor

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This piece is found in the "Additional Music" section at the back of your book.  Please keep in mind the following when practicing this song:

Use the suggested right hand fingering throughout the entire song - p i m iUse a metronome and work on evenly spacing four notes for every beat (sixteenth notes)Accent the note that is played with the thumb.  It is the melody of the song.Watch the video below for a demonstration of the song "Study in A Minor".

Lesson Nine - The Notes "E", "F", and "G"

Keep in mind the following as you play through the exercises and songs in this lesson:

The notes E, F, and G can be found on the first, second, and third string.  For this book you only need to find them on strings one and two.Try playing the songs Jazz Odyssey and One String Etude in the open, third and fifth positions.Be sure to use the correct fingers.  In some positions you will need to use your pinky.  Be sure to use it.  It needs a lot of practice.

Lesson Eight - The Natural Notes

This lessons will teach you how to find the natural notes on the guitar.  On the piano, the natural notes are all the white keys.  Be sure to read this lesson and then fill in the neck diagram with all the natural notes up to the 12th fret.  You can check your work by looking at the completed neck diagram at the end of the lesson.  No peeking!  Do your homework first!

Lesson Seven - Reading Music

This is a great lesson to read especially if you have no background in reading music.  This lesson will teach you about standard notation.  This is the "industry standard" for notating music. Basically, this lesson has nothing to do with the guitar.  It's more about music than it is about the guitar.

Be sure to do the note quiz at the end of the lesson.

Lesson Eleven - The Notes A, B, and C

These notes are to be played in the fifth position.  Here are a few practice tips:


In the fifth position play the following notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B,  and CThese are the notes of the C major scale.  These are the notes of the first exercise on the following page.I recommend that you play this scale as an exercise.  As a technical exercise, be sure you play on the tips of your fingers and keep your thumb low on the neck.As a rhythm exercise, put your metronome at a very low speed and practice playing one note/click (quarter notes), two notes/click (eighth notes), three notes/click (triplets), and four notes/click (sixteenth notes).  Be sure to use down and up strokes when playing more than one note/click.

Lesson Six - Scarborough Fair

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We are taking the "campfire" approach to playing Scarborough Fair.  All we need are chords and a strumming pattern and we can make music.  Keep in mind the following when practicing this song:


This song is in 3/4 time.  Use a 3/4 strumming pattern.Keep it simple at first.  Try strumming once in every measure.  This will give you plenty of time to get to the next chord.  When you can do this, try strumming on all three beats, and then try a 3/4 strumming pattern.I know its difficult, but don't stop your strumming hand even if you don't like the sound of your chords.  Train yourself to get all the way through the song.Watch the video below for a demonstration of the 3/4 strumming pattern.The second video is a demonstration of the entire song using the 3/4 strumming pattern.


Lesson Thirteen - Andantino

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This is an excerpt from a Classical piece by Matteo Carcassi:  Practice with the following in mind:


Play all the bass strings (6, 5 and 4) with your thumb ("p").Play strings 3, 2 and 1 with fingers "i", "m" and "a".Don't forget, the numbers in the tab are frets (not fingers). The complete song shows up in the back of the book in the "Additional Music" section.  Be sure to follow use the correct right hand fingers for the second line.  The fingerings are given in the music.

Lesson Six - Strumming Chords

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This Lesson is about putting a cool strumming pattern behind your chord.  Call it a "groove."  You will also work on what I like to call the "Campfire" approach to playing songs.  Keep the following in mind when working through this Lesson:

Six strumming patterns are given at the beginning of this lesson (three 4/4 patterns and three 3/4 patterns).  They are all good, but the best ones are the third and fifth patterns.  I call them the "all purpose 4/4 strum" and the "all purpose 3/4 strum.""All Purpose" Four - Four Strumming Pattern
"All-Purpose" Three - Four Strumming Pattern

Lesson Five - Understanding Rhythm

Please read through this lesson.  This lesson is more about music than it is about the guitar.  This lesson could be a chapter in any music book for any instrument.  Here are the main things I would like for you to get out of this Lesson:


Be able to identify in music a whole note, half note, quarter note, and eighth note (and the corresponding rests).Know what the top and bottom number of a time signature stand for.Know the value of a whole note, half note, quarter note, and eighth note in 4/4 time and 3/4 time.Try the rhythm exercises given at the end of the Lesson using the chord of your choice.

Lesson Ten - Ode to Joy

Keep the following in mind when practicing "Ode to Joy":


This piece works great in the open, third, and fifth positions.Learn it in the open position first and then try the other positions.Melody is everything!  If you can play all the notes in the right order, great!  However, what did it sound like?  Be sure to play legato (smooth).  Try to move smoothly from one note to the next.

Lesson Four - Chords

Keep the following in mind when working through Lesson Four:


Memorize each chord.  Know it by name and know how to hold it.Check to make sure each of the notes of the chord work.Play on the very tips of your fingers. Do not extend your fingers.  Instead, bend each joint.Use the proper finger!When switching chords, be sure to strum the chord on the beat that it shows up.  Even if you don't have it completely down, strum it anyways!  You're not just working on holding chords, you're working on rhythm too.

Lesson Three - Tuning the Guitar

I highly recommend purchasing an electronic tuner (especially one that includes a metronome).  You should use your tuner as a training tool to improve your tuning skills.

How often should you tune your guitar?  Every time you pick it up!

Be sure to memorize the note names for each open string on the guitar.  From the six string it goes like this: E A D G B E.  Maybe this will help, "Eat At Denny's Get Big Eggs."

Try the six-step tuning method that is given in this lesson and then check your tuning with your electronic tuner.  How did you do?

Lesson Two - "Groovin' Blues"

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Performance Notes:

This song is written in TablatureThe top line is the bottom string.  Numbers are frets (not fingers).I suggest you use your first finger to play all the notes at the second fret.  Play frets three and four with your second and third fingers respectively.Each note should ring for the same length of time.  I highly recommend you use a metronome and set it at a low speed (try 50 bpm).  Play one note for every click of your metronome.Memorize the first 8 notes and learn to play them before moving on.The first 8 notes of the third line will require extra practice.Watch the video below for a demonstration of the "Groovin' Blues".